Friday, October 22, 2010

Autumn Images

Taken on a weekend getaway to the Catskills.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Bog Bounty II


The previous post was about the traditional fall Pine Barrens product, cranberries. New Jersey is the third largest US producer of this Thanksgiving staple and popular juice flavoring.

I was unable to find any stats on spider production.

But there were plenty. And like the berries, they float too.

The miracle of walking on water ...

... or the physics of surface tension?

Note the spiders on spiders (click to bigafy). They were climbing over everything, even each other.

Miracle or physics (and I'm going with physics), with the bog flooded they had to go somewhere. And where was to shore. And they kept coming and coming and coming ...

Some found a home in communal webs.

Some tried to find a home on me!

It was a magical experience, although not everyone saw it that way. Some found it rather creepy. Some didn't notice at all (amazing!).

There were literally thousands and thousands of these creatures streaming across the bog and onto the shore, climbing over everything in their path. They were on my camera, my tripod (spinning webs!), and on me. And they were on everybody else.

A natural phenomena I'm glad I was there to experience. Very cool. Very cool indeed.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Bog Bounty

Autumn harvest at Double Trouble State Park.

Monday, October 11, 2010

All Gone ...

On the ride to Sunrise Mountain I passed the exit for Hibernia, which at one time was home to the largest bat hibernaculum in New Jersey, the abandoned Hibernia Mine. My friend Laura had mentioned it the weekend before, wondering if it was worth a trip. On the way back from the the hawk watch I decided to find out.

The site, part of the Wildcat Ridge Wildlife Management Area, was very easy to find. Exit the interstate, turn north, and it's a few miles up on the right.

After finding the site, and realizing I was way too early for the show, I went looking for some dinner. I found a deli, bought a sandwich, and headed back.

The accommodations are sparse, but it was a nice day, and I enjoyed my sandwich while I waited for sunset.

I was there to see the bats, which exit the mine at dawn and dusk (in my case dusk). As recently as 2008 there were some 30,000 bats making Hibernia Mine their winter home. Guides books and websites recommend arriving thirty minutes prior to sunset. I was there in plenty of time.

While I waited I enjoyed the company of a dozen or more ruby crowned kinglets, along with several species of woodpeckers, migrating blue jays, and several nuthatches. Squirrels and chipmunks were quite active. At one point I counted eleven chipmunks within scampering about.

After finishing my sandwich I took some pictures.

The mine entrance from the viewing platform. The gate is to keep humans out while allowing clear access for the bats.

Work at the mine started in pre-Revolutionary times, continuing up until 1916, when iron mining moved west. It was then that the bats moved in, finding the dark, damp, cool (you can feel cool air flowing out of the mine) conditions quite to their liking. Over the years, the mine began to deteriorate and the mine owners decided to seal up the mine. As this would have been disastrous for the bats, officials form the NJ Endangered and Non-Game Species Program worked with the owners to seal the mine to human entry while allowing access for the bats. In 1994 the state acquired the property.

Recently a new gate was installed as the old one was vandalized, and a second access way added for the bats.

At the same time the mine shaft was stabilized.

But it may have all been for naught.

I waited and watched.

As did the raccoon in the image above (click the image to bigafy; the raccoon is to the right of the gate, at the same height as the yellow sign).

Sunset was at 6:29 PM. I began my vigil at 5:49. I left at 7:10, fifteen minutes after civil twilight ended.

I did not see a single bat. Not a one.

The most recent census had found but 1700 bats in the mine. A decline of over 90%. The culprit is believed to be white nose syndrome.

My unofficial census found none.

They were all gone.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Hawk Watchin'

Clear blue skies and crisp Autumn air. My favorite time of year. No better time to be outdoors, wandering, observing, enjoying. We had picked a great day to go hawk watching.

It was a long ride to Stokes State Forest in the New Jersey Highlands. And then a short stroll along the Appalachian Trail to the top of Sunrise Mountain. When we got there we had the place to ourselves, but that wouldn't last. In fact, we were surprised the parking lot wasn't full when we arrived. It would be when we left.

The view from the summit. A gorgeous day. But where are all the hawks?

Maybe they're north, at Highpoint? I don't see any.

They were out there and eventually we started spotting them. The blue sky actually makes it harder, we could have used some clouds.

While we waited we enjoyed the fall foliage, far ...

... and near.

But we came for the birds. Like this sharp-shinned hawk.

This is a typical view typical of the raptors, distant silhouettes (click any image to enlarge). Part of the fun is spotting them at a distance and them figuring out what they are. Occasionally you'll get a close flyby, like the red-tailed hawk shown below, which thrilled us by spiraling below the summit.

Or the merlin which flew within yards of us, chasing another bird, an unidentified feathered missile which shot by the now twenty or so of us on mountain.

The most common migrants were vultures, black ...

... and turkey.

The least common included American kestrel, bald eagle, of which we saw but one of each, and osprey, like that shown above, of which we saw just three.

Other birds were on the move as well. We saw dozens of blue jays, all flying low, no doubt to avoid the hawks flying above them. Northern flickers were common, kinglets were on the move, and we saw our first of year juncos.

I mentioned above that part of the fun at a hawk watch is first spotting and then identifying the distant birds. Watching them flyby, hoping they'll come in close. Another big part is the people, enjoying the stories especially of the local watchers. It was also pretty cool to be eating lunch on top of a mountain, raptors soaring by, on such a beautiful day.

Thursday, October 7, 2010


My dad and I went to see the Giants play the Bears last Sunday night. It was the first night game for either of us. And our first visit to the New Meadowlands Stadium (catchy name, huh?).

Dad's 81 years old and has been going to Giants games since they played at the Polo Grounds. He'd ride the subway from his home in Manhattan and pay $2.50 at the gate to get in. A far cry from today. Click on the ticket image above and check the price. Yep a 4800% increase. And that doesn't include the season ticket sea license fee. Ouch.

I'm pretty sure I'd seen them play at Yankee Stadium. And we've been to a number of games at the Old Meadowlands Stadium (aka Giants Stadium). 

Another change is the pre-game festivities. We arrived two and a half hours early, and found the parking lot full of tailgaters, with full picnic setups, tables, chairs, grills, and plenty of beer. Made our subs and drinks seem rather meager fare.

There was even a pre-game concert. I wonder how many original Jukes remain?

There were tailgate TVs. 

And end zone TVs. Another change from the Polo Grounds. This one was directly behind us. (Bonus, both are showing the Eagles lose!)

It was a cool (Dad would say cold) evening, with rain in the forecast.  We didn't hold much hope for a Giants win, as they had played very poorly the past two games, while the Bears were undefeated. So we figured if it got too bad we'd just head on home. 

We wound up staying through the rain to enjoy a surprising Giants win.

The Bears did win the coin toss. It was their only highlight.

Here we see the Bears line up in what their play book must refer to as "sack formation".

You can almost see the fear in Cutler's eyes ...

Not long before the end, at least for Cutler. Note Olsen trying to warn his QB of the danger lurking to the left. It was to no avail as a corner blitz resulted in a concussion for the Bears quarterback. The ninth Giants sack of the first half (they would finish the game with ten).

At half time it was 9 to 3, sacks to points, for the Giants. The Bears had but 22 total yards in the half. And no points. The Giants offense wasn't doing much either, and we fans wanted to cheer the defense and boo the offense as they went to the locker room at the half. In the end we cheered, defense has always been a fan favorite.

And defense was well represented during the halftime festivities, as the Giants introduced the inaugural members of their Ring of Honor. The group included linebackers Sam Huff, Harry Carson, Lawrence Taylor, Jesse Armsted, and d-linemen Michael Strahan and George Martin. In all thirty players, coaches, and executives were honored. Plenty of cheers at halftime.

And there were plenty of cheers before the game started. October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and the NFL supports this via its Crucial Catch campaign. Over 125 breast cancer survivors graced the field, forming a human pink ribbon, a very moving moment. Back when I first started watching football being diagnosed with cancer was a death sentence. And while I've friends who've died from cancer and Dad's sister, my aunt did as well, early detection, which is what the Crucial Catch is all about, clearly betters the odds of survival.

The second half saw the Giants put the game away. Cutler did not return and the backup quarterback Collins was also sacked out out of the game. The final score was 17 to 3 Giants, the Bears only points coming on a field goal after a Giants turnover. That the Giants didn't score more was a testament to a fine Bears defense.

Here we are at our seats. We're in the front row! (Albeit second deck.)

But we do get cup holders!

Unlike the Polo Ground days, there are no longer any walk up seats available. And there haven't been for quite some time. Every one of the 86 K seats is a season ticket. Fortunately, my dad is a season ticket holder, after having spent twenty-five years on the waiting list. 

It was a great way to spend the night. Thanks Dad!